After a couple of fleeting glimpses of competitive hockey over the past weeks, this weekend is something of an explosion with last season’s Irish Senior Cup, Jaqui Potter Cup final, Irish Hockey Trophy and Challenge finals make for a packed schedule.
In the Senior Cup, a layover from before lockdown, UCD are aiming for a unique piece of history as the first club to win both the men’s and women’s competition in the same season.
Only four clubs from the same jurisdiction – Cork Harlequins, Railway Union, Pembroke and Instonians – have won the title in both genders but never at the same time in the 117-year overlaps of competition.
Both student clubs are underdogs, however, against Ulster opposition with the finals being played at Lisnagarvey’s Comber Road with a lucky selection of fans able to get in following the successful trial run for the men’s semi-final.
Using the 2019/20 registrations, these finals also offer a strange swansong for some of UCD’s departing alumni. On the men’s side, David Nolan, Jazze Henry, Andrew Meates and Ziggy Agnew have been through a lot with the club, encompassing two EYHL promotions and a relegation, among other things prior to this first ever Irish Senior Cup final for the Belfielders.
And Nolan says it would be a memorable way to sign off before he links up full-time with Monkstown.
“We are really happy to be back for one last go because it has been a seriously exciting [ISC] run,” he told The Hook. “We’ve scored on the hooter in two of our games and feel like we have a chance because we have somehow got to the final. Anything can happen.
“One final go at getting a trophy! Over the years, we feel we deserve something for our efforts – we won two promotions but there’s no silverware for that!”
He knows they will be more than up against it; Garvey are unbeaten in all competitions since the last Irish Senior Cup final – back in May 2019 – and beat the students 6-0 in their last encounter.
Add in the disruptive nature of the students’ preseason and they will certainly be unfancied by neutral viewers.
Nolan played Garvey in a friendly with Monkstown last week who he has been training with primarily before reverting to the UCD camp for match weeks.
His side, though, are a confident one and their standards are probably at the highest in the history of the club’s history having never reached a senior national final before.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time – it’s always a good place to enjoy your hockey and have fun,” he said, explaining the change in mindset that has evolved in recent years.
“You look at guys like Conor Empey and Guy Sarratt who have come in and driven the team; very good players who want to be successful and are not content to just be making up numbers.
“A lot of the guys are highly competitive people and that shows; we are not there to mess about and it can be misconstrued as over-confidence but we are just really competitive as a team and want to win.”
Garvey’s Jonny Bell, meanwhile, is aware of those threats and so is taking nothing for granted, saying there is little to be drawn from the pre-lockdown 6-0.
“A lot of time has passed since then,” he told the Belfast Telegraph’s John Flack. “I know we will go into the game as favourites but, as far as I am concerned, there are no favourites in cup finals which are usually cagey affairs.
“But if we can get our own game right and everyone performs with an eight or nine [out of 10], and we get our preparation right, then we can get the result we need.
“We have looked at videos of UCD and they are a good team and it’s important to be aware of the opposition’s strengths and any weaknesses they might have. But at the same time, I think it’s important not to over analyse and concentrate on getting our own performance right.”
The women’s final is a repeat of the 2018 final – which UCD won 4-0 – with the students looking to win the title for the third time in the last four runnings of the competition and a sixth since 2009. Pegs are aiming for their 14th title since breaking through in 1974 but are on a relative drought dating back to 2010/11.
“A magnificent competition with a great history,” is UCD coach Miles Warren’s assessement. “It’s a really exciting chance for the girls and been a long time coming as we played the semi-finals last November.”
While coping with the same disruptions to training, Warren has not been quite so fortunate in getting back some of his departing stars.
Lena Tice and Abbie Russell miss the final through injury but – of those who have indicated they will move on – he does have Sarah and Orla Patton along with Suzie Kelly in the fold.
“For them, it will be a like a testimonial match, their last in a UCD kit. A big occasion for them personally but also the club which we really appreciate their new clubs have allowed them to play for us on the day.
“It’s a big send off on a big stage and, maybe, hopefully winning a trophy; what a way it would be to finish a stellar hockey career for UCD because all five have been involved in big, big games and competitions.”
Pegasus are less affected but Molly Dougan (Exeter) and Charlotte Hart (Bristol) do depart for university in England.
Shirley McCay missed the last final with a broken thumb and so is thrilled to get a chance to make amends. play in.
“I can’t wait to get playing in Ulster this Saturday, again against UCD so we will be looking to go one better this time. Pegs haven’t won the ISC in a few years so we will be looking to put that right.
“Prep has gone well all things considering we have a strong squad and competition has been high with lots out at training which is always a good thing.
“After a strange few months, it has been great to get back into team sport and have that competitiveness back, so to win on Saturday would be a great way to start the season and really set down a marker as to where we are at going into the new season.”
Both take place at Comber Road on Saturday alongside the men’s Irish Hockey Trophy and Challenge finals. Portrane are the Leinster representative with the Fingal side winning their semi-final 3-0 over South Antrim.
They are up against Belfast Harlequins in the Trophy final while Portrush meet Antrim in the Challenge decider. On Sunday, Old Alex II are up against Pembroke II in the women’s Junior Cup final at Belfield followed up by NICS against Blackrock in the Challenge final.
There is also a wealth of Leinster cup finals with the highlight being Loreto against Pembroke in the Jacqui Potter Cup at Beaufort.
Friday 18th September 2020
Benny Atkinson Under-16 Cup final: Three Rock Rovers v Monkstown, Grange Road, 8.15pm
Jacqui Potter Junior Under-16 Plate final: Monkstown v Old Alex, Merrion Fleet Arena, 7.30pm
Saturday 19th September 2020
Irish Senior Cup Final: Lisnagarvey v UCD, Comber Road, 4.30pm
Irish Hockey Trophy Final: Belfast Harlequins v Portrane, Comber Road, 4pm
Irish Hockey Challenge Final: Portrush v Antrim, Comber Road, 12.30pm
Munster Division 1: Ashton v Midleton, Ashton, 3.30pm; Bandon v Cork Harlequins, Bandon GS, 3pm; Catholic Institute v Cork C of I, Rosbrien, 12.30pm
Irish Senior Cup Final: Pegasus v UCD, Comber Road, 1pm
Leinster Jacqui Potter Cup final: Loreto v Pembroke, Loreto Beaufort, 1.15pm
Leinster Div 3/4 Cup final: Kilkenny v Corinthian II, Loreto, Kilkenny, 1pm
Leinster Div 5/6 Cup final: Enniscorthy v Rathgar II, Astro Active Enniscorthy, 2pm
Leinster Div 7/8 Cup final: Railway Union IV v Old Alexandra IV, Park Avenue, 2.30pm
Leinster Div 9/10 Cup final: Portrane v UCD VI, Donabate Leisure Centre, 10am
Leinster Div 11/13 Cup final: Botanic IV v Carlow, TBC, 2.30pm
Leinster Junior Jacqui Potter Under-16 Cup final: Pembroke v Railway Union, Serpentine Avenue, 12pm
Munster Division 1: Ashton v Cork C of I, Ashton School, 1pm; Belvedere v Bandon, Ballincollig CS, 1pm; Waterford v UCC, Newtown, 12.30pm
Sunday 20th September 2020
Irish Junior Cup final: Old Alex II v Pembroke II, Belfield, 1.30pm
Irish Hockey Trophy, semi-final: North Kildare v Portadown, The Maws, 2.30pm
Irish Hockey Challenge final: NICS v Blackrock, Belfield, 4pm